The Dining Experience

The Dining Experience

Fleming’s: Breaking Boundaries

By Brian P. Sharp

As an epicurean critic, I normally swear off “chain” restaurants.  However, recently I have thought a lot about whether certain chain restaurants deliver a “dining experience,” a white tablecloth environment that delivers great food and quality service that sets them above the other “chains.” Can a “chain restaurant” — a restaurant run by a corporation and focused on food cost, profit and quantity — really deliver?  I decided to try Fleming’s, at The Greene.

While Fleming’s is situated at the entry to an open air shopping center, it is not the normal shopping center service or fare.  As you pull up to Fleming’s there is a sign that states “free valet parking.”  That is certainly not the expected greeting at a mall restaurant.  So … we took advantage of the service.  On a blustery cold night in February why not just jump out at the door and let the valet deal with parking.  We walked into the beautifully appointed lobby, with a cheerful hostess … or three … a coat check and a well-staffed and stocked bar.

Once seated at a comfortable booth, our server James greeted us and asked for our drink orders.  There was a small menu on the table that had some drink specials highlighted … we asked for a moment while we decided.  In looking at the special menu we noticed that there were drink and appetizer specials offered before 7p.m.  Since we were on time, we decided to try an appetizer and drinks from the special menu.  So, we informed James and promptly learned that these special menu items only applied to the bar area.  This seemed a bit confusing for a number of reasons … first, it was on the table in the dining room, which makes one ask why?  Second, we were seated about 15 feet from the bar, and I guess 15 feet makes a big difference.  These are the types of things that remind you that you are “at a chain.”  While we waited we were served what seemed like pretzel bread with two spreads — one a sundried tomato and herb spread and the other a garlic herbed cream cheese.

So, after that confusion with the special menu we wound up ordering the same appetizer anyway, for only $6 more than on the bar menu, and drinks as well. Bob and I chose sparkling peach martinis while Steve chose red wine from the long list of wine options.  The chosen appetizer was a mix of lightly fried calamari mixed with banana peppers and red bell peppers, served with a light mandarin sauce.  The drinks were delicious, and the appetizer perfect for sharing.

The appetizer and salad options are plentiful, and some salads can even be served entrée style.  I chose the wedge, because I still believe in iceberg lettuce.  I simply don’t care if it’s not full of nutrients — it tastes great, and topped with blue cheese, cherry tomatoes and red onion, it is better than ever.  I also wanted to have the French onion soup, but my eyes were simply bigger than my stomach.

One thing diners should know about this restaurant: all the sides are served a la carte, but are quite large servings and provide plenty to share.  James recommended a starch and a vegetable for our table.  Bob ordered a nightly special of bone in veal chop stuffed with crab. The veal chop was cooked to order with a filling of crab and grilled perfectly.  Steve ordered the bone in filet Oscar — a large filet topped with lumped crab and asparagus spears.  The bone in filet cooked to order was topped with two fresh asparagus spears, lumped crab and a light hollandaise sauce.  I chose filet served with sauce béarnaise.  Our sides were creamed spinach, Fleming’s potatoes and creamed corn.  The Fleming’s potatoes were a blend of potato, cheese, cream and jalapeno.  The creamed corn was sweet and creamy and topped with fried jalapeno slices.

One thing I noticed about this “chain” restaurant is that there are plenty of attentive servers and managers circulating throughout the dining room, ensuring service and quality.  The server offered the dessert menu after dinner.

While I could hardly imagine being able to eat one more thing … it seemed almost insulting not to consider something sweet.  We decided to share two desserts at the table: crème brûlée and carrot cake.  The crème brûlée was perfectly charred and crispy on top with a garnish of fresh berries, and the custard perfectly cool and full of vanilla bean flavor.  The carrot cake was served with no nuts or raisins but was full of pineapple and iced with cream cheese frosting, accompanied by a pool of caramel sauce.  Certainly desserts could be shared … but why?

So, is this a chain restaurant or a dining experience?  It’s both!  Certainly Fleming’s is part of a corporate chain, a sister to Bonefish and Outback, focused on food cost, profitability, etc., but that is where it stops.  When you are at Fleming’s you pay a much higher price … but you also receive a much higher level of quality food and service.

So the next time you think about dinner at Olive Garden, BRIO, PF Chang’s or even Cracker Barrel … think again … try a different kind of chain.  Enjoy a dining experience!  Eat at Fleming’s.

Who wants to join me at the bar for the special menu pricing?

Reach DCP food critic Brian P. Sharp at Theatre@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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